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Kincade fire fouls air in Sonoma County far south of blaze in Mayacamas Mountains

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MAYACAMAS MOUNTAINS — Retired PG&E worker Tom Cardoza walked miles through smoke-tainted vineyards and back roads Friday morning, evading roadblocks to get back to his house near Highway 128 in Jimtown.

In the afternoon, Cardoza was riding his green camouflage all-terrain vehicle up and down Pine Flat Road, watching spot fires spawned by the Kincade wildfire creep up a nearby ravine on the west side of Sausal Creek. His home and those of a half a dozen neighbors on O’Brien Road are on the south side of Pine Flat Road.

“I’m taking pictures and videos for neighbors and family because they’re concerned,” said Cardoza, as a group of firefighters stood watch over flames climbing the ravine north of Pine Flat Road. “They can’t let it jump this road. That is all my neighbors’ concern.”

While the inferno burned in steep mountainous terrain away from densely populated sections of north Sonoma County, winds propelled the smoke south and a temperature inversion trapped the foul air close to the ground in Healdsburg, Windsor and Santa Rosa. That’s why residents of those towns awoke Friday to a visible haze, providing a stark reminder of the largely uncontrolled Kincade blaze burning near Geyserville since Wednesday night. The overcast blanket lifted by noon miles south of the fire, however public health officials expect the unhealthy air far from the blaze to linger and worsen over the weekend.

Sonoma County public health and Bay Area air quality officials issued health warnings Friday and urged residents to stay indoors, if possible, and avoid overexertion.

Throughout the day, smoke from the Kincade fire pushed south toward the San Francisco Bay Area. Changing wind patterns make air quality unpredictable in locales near and far from the blaze, therefore the health warning of toxic air will remain in effect until smoke subsides, officials said.

County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who heads the public health committee for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board, said people should avoid creating additional air pollution by curtailing wood burning, lawn mowing, leaf blowing, driving and barbecuing.

Residents living in the northern reaches of the county closer to the inferno should not be “lured into thinking that those masks are going to protect you 100%, because they don’t,” Zane said.

Vulnerable people, such as children, pregnant women, elderly and those with heart and lung ailments, should try to stay in air-conditioned places. Poor air quality can trigger wheezing among those with asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other respiratory conditions.

Meanwhile, late Friday afternoon, winds picked up on Pine Flat Road miles north of Cardoza’s home and an active fire high up near Hurley Creek began to spread quickly. Shortly after 4 p.m. large plumes of brown smoke billowed from the fire on Pine Flat Road and firefighters took a defensive stance.

At the bottom of Pine Flat Road, where it meets Highway 128, Cal Fire Battalion Chief Marshall Turbeville instructed a crew of bulldozer drivers to head to Briggs Ranch Road to cut some fire lines west of Knights Valley.

“Our conventional tactics of trying to stop the fire are not being effective,” said Turbeville, who is also the Geyserville fire chief.

Shortly before the flare up on Pine Flat Road, Kevin Ashworth and Michael Quesenbury of Nordby Signature Homes visited a custom house they were building nearby above the George Young Creek. Quesenbury, senior project manager for Nordby, said they’ve been working on the luxury home for two years, and had clearance from Cal Fire officials to tour the property. During the first day of the Kincade fire, flames came within 400 yards of the house.

Ashworth and Quesenbury directed a privately contracted fire crew to clear flammable debris that blew close to the home Friday afternoon, doing their best to protect the property from roaring winds up to 80 mph expected Saturday night in these high elevations.

“This is all too familiar,” said Ashworth, who lives two blocks from Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood that was torched two years ago in the Tubbs fire.

“It seems like the new normal now, unfortunately,” he said, as he stood on Pine Flat Road, watching flames make their way up a nearby ravine.

Below the mountains perilously close to the Alexander Valley lowlands, where several vineyards produce grapes for world-class wines, fire crews doused smoldering sections burned Thursday.

California Office of Emergency Services’ chartreuse mutual aid fire trucks carried crews there to hot spots that flared up Friday near still-standing structures.

One crew took aim at a crackling spot near the Geysers Road home of Garden Creek Winery and Vineyard owners Justin and Karin Miller. A two-inch hose snaked through a fence as firefighters also used shovels to uncover and destroy remaining hot spots.

At the Robert Young Estate Winery off of Red Winery Road, winery scions Fred Young and son, Robbie Young, worked with a crew to cut and clear burned trees and debris from the property before the anticipated strong weekend winds. Fred Young was at the controls of a backhoe, placing whole sections of tree trunks into a large truck.

Although the Kincade fire had burned a buffer around the Young property, there’s still risk of blowing embers igniting structures.

“There’s a lot of trees that are hollow and are burning inside,” he said. “If that wind picks up, it could spark those.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno. You can reach Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

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